How a CIA Officer Wanted for Kidnapping in Italy Ended Up Arrested in Panama

On Wednesday, the story of Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan, Italy, took another improbable turn when he was arrested in Panama near the Costa Rican border. Lady has been living quietly in the United States since fleeing an Italian investigation that resulted in him and 22 other Americans being convicted in absentia for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical cleric the CIA believed was helping recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.

Nasr, who also went by Abu Omar, was pulled off a Milanese street during a daily noon-time walk. He was thrown into the back of a van, driven to Aviano Air Base, near Venice, and then flown to Egypt, where he was interrogated and tortured. The practice of seizing suspected terrorists and forcibly removing them to a third-party state for interrogation is often known as extraordinary rendition; in the eyes of the Italian judicial system, though, Nasr's abduction was kidnapping. After an investigation implicated a collection of CIA agents in Italy, tying their cell phones to the place and time at which Nasr was thrown into the van, the Italian government conducted a trial that sentenced 23 Americans to seven to nine years each in prison. The convictions were upheld last September by the Italian Supreme Court.

According to a 2007 investigation of the incident by Matthew Cole, published in GQ, Lady's role in the operation was to have lunch with and ease the suspicions of Bruno Megale, the head of Milan's antiterrorism police while, across town, agents seized Nasr and began driving him toward Venice. According to Cole's account, Lady had actually advised against the operation, but had been overruled by his supervisor in Rome and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Lady, who, at the time, was a 21-year CIA veteran, was planning to retire to a recently purchased Italian villa, but left Italy as the investigation began and has not been able to return. When the home was searched in 2005, Italian investigators found Lady's "flight itinerary to Egypt, an e-mail from a former colleague telling him to flee Italy, and surveillance photos -- one of which showed Omar a month before the rendition in the exact spot where he was later snatched," according to Cole.

From the United States, Lady hired an attorney and took a more active role in the case. But by the time Cole spoke to him in 2007, he had become more withdrawn. "The agency told me to keep quiet and let this blow over," he told Cole. "But it's not blowing over for me." He's not the only one of his cohort to raise concerns publicly. In July 2012, the Washington Post profiled Sabrina De Sousa, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for her role in the abduction; in the article, De Sousa criticized the U.S. government for not pushing for diplomatic immunity and worried about the potential for her arrest while traveling to India.

That seems to be what happened to Lady. According to Italian media cited by the BBC, the Italian government issued an international warrant in December 2012, which led to Lady's arrest in Panama. The Italian government now has two months to request that Panama extradite Lady to serve his nine-year sentence.



Graphic Novel Urges Western Muslim Youth to Join Jabhat al-Nusra

In the annals of jihadi groups, the story is an old one: A disaffected Muslim youth returns to Islam, reconnects with his faith, finds himself outraged at the injustices done to his brothers abroad, and travels to a conflict zone to wage jihad. Think Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 2000s, Iraq under American occupation, and Syria today.

But when it comes to the propaganda campaigns that have drawn Muslim youths to these conflicts, here's something we haven't seen before: a graphic novel encouraging young Muslims in the West to take up jihad.

A video released by the online jihadi "Mustafa Hamdi" depicting one young man's journey to Syria does just that, serving up a mix of aspirational thinking and sense of belonging to entice Muslims to join with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria against the Syrian regime.

The story -- which was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute and is the first of seven parts -- centers on a young man named Mustafa who lives in an unnamed Western country and graduated high school four years ago, only to spend his days in his room playing video games. His father enters to tell Mustafa that he needs to make something of himself, reminding him that his brothers have entered respectable professions -- one a doctor, the other an engineer. "I'm very proud of you, and I want a good future for you," the father tells his son. "Don't disappoint me." Mustafa looks at the ground shamefully and despondently turns on the television.

Later, he meets his cousin, Marwan, a man dressed in traditional Muslim clothing. Marwan tells Mustafa that he is saddened that he hasn't seen him around the mosque recently and encourages him to come by more often. "I know that living in a foreign country has its difficulties, but we must not forget where we have come from," he says. "We lead comfortable lives here, but Muslims are dying every day all over the world, defending Islam and the Muslims."

"You know that my family is still in Syria, trapped between the fighters," Marwan tells Mustafa over sounds of gunfire. "They have witnessed many barbaric crimes and killings, which no man can bear to see. I pray to Allah the Almighty every day that they will keep in good health, and I hope you will join me in prayer in the mosque. Our faith and our honor are more important than any worldly matter."

Three months later, we return to Marwan and Mustafa, who has found Islam once more. "It was your stories of the killing and torture in Syria that had an impact on me," Mustafa tells his cousin. "I can hardly believe what is happening to my brothers in Syria. These people are fighting and dying for the sake of Allah, and there is no greater honor than that. Allah will hold the aggressors accountable on Judgment Day."

A man overhears Mustafa's conversation and interjects. "These words of yours are awesome, young man. You bring honor to your family and to Islam. But if you are ready to wage Jihad for the sake of Allah along with your brothers in Syria..."

Thus ends part one of "The Journey of a Mujahid with Jabhat Al-Nusra."

Here is the graphic novel in full: